In the opening game of the weekend, the Stormers came back strongly at North Harbour as Jean de Villiers scored two tries in the final quarter, but their discipline let them down and the Blues sneaked a very important 18-17 win. There’s been a lot of talk about the way referee Glenn Jackson officiated the match, but I feel that had the visitors played the entire match with the intensity they showed in the last 20 minutes, the ref wouldn’t have been an issue. The Aucklanders were kept try-less as the Stormers’ defenders stood their ground, but ultimately Chris Noakes had the final say with six converted penalties.
It was way too close for comfort in Melbourne as the lively Rebels pushed the Chiefs all the way, but in the end the Waikato warriors managed to hold on for a 33-39 victory. Three tries to Chiefs fullback Gareth Anscombe was answered with a brace by Rebels lock Hugh Pyle in a match that delivered eleven entertaining tries. Many would agree that it was great to see Kurtley Beale back to weave his way through the defense and for the second week in a row the Rebels threatened to upset the log. In anticipation of the upcoming fixtures, the Chiefs would have to take a stern look at their defensive tactics as they will be facing a feisty Force side next before featuring in a few tough New Zealand derbies.
Rugby in Dunedin might not be played in the House of Pain anymore, but a lot of pain was inflicted on an injury ridden Sharks team as the Highlanders recorded their first win of the season by outscoring the visitors 25-22 at Forsyth Barr Stadium. For the umpteenth time captain Keegan Daniel opted to go for the win instead of a draw and again the overambitious Sharks botched it and lost. They now find themselves in a position from where they’ll have to fight hard for a spot in the play-offs. The Highlanders on the other hand have nothing to lose as they travel to South Africa with loads of confidence after finally tasting success.
Continuing their trend to topple the heavyweights, the enthusiastic Western Force drew on every bit of energy they had to hold the Reds to an 11-11 draw. Each team only scored one try in a very tight battle with both missing crucial attempts at goal. The Queenslanders have not racked up much in the way of big victories and although they’ve shown signs of a champion team, they will need to stamp their authority on games sooner rather than later.
Everyone expected the Waratahs to overcome the tiring Kings with some ease, but very few anticipated the 10-72 bloodbath that played out at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. However impressive the rookies were at showing character in the early stages of the competition, it was only a question of time before the harsh realities of a long and taxing season would set in. That moment became apparent a couple of weeks ago against the Bulls and I fear things will only go downhill from here for the team from Port Elizabeth. Sydney’s Waratahs came close against the Bulls and that closer-than-the-scoreboard-suggested loss seemingly urged them on to sharpen their skills as they ran in eleven tries to one. The list of Waratahs players that deserve praise for their performances is a long one, but the breakdown work of Michael Hooper, brute force in attack by Israel Folau and proficient finishing of Cam Crawford set the tone for this thrashing.
The Bulls have been grinding their way up the ladder from the beginning of the tournament, and even though they didn’t look like they had the makings of serious contenders a few weeks ago, they have surely rectified that notion with yet another resounding 48-14 victory over the Hurricanes. Morné Steyn appears to be back to his best and organising the Bulls play beautifully as they scored six tries, two of which came from intercepts that resulted from unyielding defense. TJ Perenara was the only shining star for a visiting side that were completely outclassed at Loftus.
Although the Brumbies got the early lead in Canberra, it didn’t take the Crusaders too long to turn the scoreboard on its head and thereafter stubbornly refuse to let the home team back in. Unless you were supporting either of the teams involved in the Sunday fixture, the stop-start match didn’t deliver much in terms of entertainment. Most of the momentum went the way of the Crusaders, but with 20 minutes left on the clock and a mere 10 point deficit, the Brumbies were still in the game as they found themselves in a great attacking position. However, the ball was spilled and instead of alleviating the pressure by kicking the ball away, Israel Dagg started and finished a counter attack try that caught Jake White’s team off guard and took the game away from them. Captain Ben Mowen struck back minutes later, but eventually the Brumbies has to settle for the bonus point as the Crusaders well and truly announced their intentions with a 23-30 victory.
However difficult it was to look past all the hat-tricks and doubles scored by various individuals, my choice for this week’s Super Trooper is the ever-improving code-hopper Israel Folau. He has been impressing viewers week after week, and although he only dotted down once against the Kings, he had a hand in many more.
For all the tries scored in Melbourne, Port Elizabeth and Pretoria, he biggest match-up and Best Battle in my opinion took place in Dunedin as the Highlanders finally pulled through to overcome the toothless Sharks.
His decision to leave the Crusaders and join the Hurricanes in order to get more game time might well be a justified one, but Ben Franks has been a bit of a loose cannon in recent weeks, and the floated pass that lead to an intercept try to JJ Engelbrecht was only one in a series of mistakes made by the prop, making him the Howler of the Week for Round 12. Lucky Luke as he’s been dubbed by some Super Sport commentators will have to take a serious look at his discipline in order not to further damage his All Black aspirations.
by Jackie Smit